I have one client who reminds his friends he can’t do anything with them on our appointment days because he’s going to the “crazy doctor’s.” Another woman I see cheerfully asks her husband if he can run by the pharmacy for her because she’s almost out of her “happy pills.” Other clients have come into my office for the first time and “complained” that I didn’t have a fainting couch. Though these words might seem a little flippant to some, I disagree. I think it’s a good thing to have a sense of humor in the counseling office.
This position is historically well-supported. Just search the words humor and counseling in a quality research database and you will return a decent number of hits. For me, it just comes naturally. I come from a joking and sarcastic family, and so for me it would be strange not to incorporate some of that attitude into my personal counseling style.
Humor can immediately create rapport, and humanize us as counselors. It says that we are on the same level as our clients are, and we understand where they’re coming from. In this way, it can reduce the embarrassment of coming in to “get help”. I believe that is why my client in the first example tells his friends that he’s going to the “crazy doctor’s”. Some clients may use humor as self-defense, and for them you would have to call them on it rather than participate in it. But with this particular client, I happen to know he takes therapy seriously. For him, it’s just a way to balance the darkness he wades through in session with a little light. And don’t we all need that sometimes?
Here, I must insert all the necessary caveats in regards to humor in counseling: be careful not to make fun of a person’s race or religion, and it’s probably a good idea to be very, very cautious about jokes on any disorder they might have. But, these exceptions aside, I think it can be very heartening for the client to remember that they are entering into an exploration of their problems in order to heal from them and have a better life. There is fun out there for them.
The use of humor lets our clients know that this experience of therapy may not be as horrible as they thought it would be. It can remind us that healing is not just the absence of problems but the development through those problems into a fuller, better life. I think counselors AND their clients both need that from time to time.
You hear that therapy is a depressing job. I don’t think so. I think it’s one of the most positive jobs out there. Yes, you deal with a lot of pain, and sometimes, you suffer along with your client. But you get to be there to help them through it. My favorite kind of stories (fiction or non-fiction) are the ones in which the protagonist excels through trial, and by means of personal strength is able to overcome. At my work, I get to not only watch people live out these stories, but participate in helping them get there.
Who wouldn’t have fun with a job like that?
Stephanie Ann Adams is a counselor-intern who believes in the ability of the mind to understand and change behaviors, and in each person’s power to create the life they want. Her blog can be found at www.sassynsane.blogspot.com.